"And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." (Acts 20:22-23)
It jumped off the page at me this morning, snatching moments of reading in between managing children through morning routines and breaking up bickering, that the only thing Paul knew for sure about his missions was that they would involve imprisonment. Restraint, struggle, and limitations were inherently part of the way God's word went forth through Paul.
Why would God place fences around Paul's ability to preach the word? Why would He permit cages to prevent Paul's unhindered sharing of the Gospel? Why would He enclose Paul, shrink him down into something less than he could be?
Could it be that God placed Paul into prisons because that was the way He was most glorified?
Perhaps you've never felt this way in your life, but I have sometimes... felt a little suffocated, a little trapped. There have been life stages where every time I turned slightly to explore a possible open door or an idea, I'd come face to face with a wall; my possibilities or even things I felt the Lord constraining me to do made impossible because of my limitations - children's needs, language barriers, nap or school schedules, my husband's needs and dreams, my level of body fitness, my need for sleep, lack of support from others. My prison walls look different than Paul's, but they still feel restraining.
But Paul's restraints did not make him to "shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God". Rather, he continued to speak the truth and "commended [each listener] to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." He continued on to say that "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive".
Anytime I catch myself thinking, "I need (a personal need of mine) in order to be more effective as a mom" or "I can't (reach out to someone, help with a cause, encourage someone) because of (a certain limitation)" or "(A certain person) is getting in the way of me being able to truly serve the Lord", I have to remember how much of a "no-excuses" type of person Paul was. Perhaps it was Paul's personality type, that God saw fit for him to be tied up and have a need to fight for the Gospel. Perhaps it was because God knew that if Paul was limited, His Own limitless character would be more impressive. Perhaps it was because God loved to be Paul's provider, loved having that type of relationship with him where He was the hero and rescuer. Perhaps it was all of those things and more. Whatever it was, between Paul and God, the prisons were a means by which God's Word went forth more loudly and boldly.
It happens in my own life too... that whenever God leads to me to a place where I feel I can't be effective without removal of a certain limitation, He either provides for the removal of that limitation (praise Him!) or shows me how I can still serve Him with that limitation (praise Him!) or sends me a different direction where that limitation isn't an issue (praise Him!) or shows me how the Body of Christ can share or lighten my burden or limitation (praise Him!). No matter what, He is praised for His goodness and provision, and the Word of God goes forth more boldly in my own life, and maybe in the lives of others too, by His grace.
Paul did not ever wait to receive anything (except direction from the Spirit) in order to give. He believed what he quoted from Jesus - that in giving, there is always a greater blessing. Although he was restrained, his giving was not... he was willing to do whatever was necessary for those around him to know God.
When we wait on the Lord and seek His direction, there is always a way for our present circumstances to bring Him great glory. We should expect imprisonment, limitations, roadblocks, and hurdles to make us more fully dependent on the leading of God. He knows us - and He knows that the deeper our need, the bigger He can be.
God be praised!